CHAI NAT – An impoverished farmer in the central province of Chai Nat was in tears Tuesday morning when police arrived to confiscate the beloved buffalo he’d just purchased with the help of online donors.
Surat Phaeoket had to lead Tongkum the buffalo onto a truck after the animal’s seller, a local government official, complained to police he had not wanted to sell the now-famous buffalo. Police said the farmer committed fraud by crowdfunding the money used to buy the buffalo and have frozen his accounts.
“I don’t want to cry anymore,” an upset sounding Surat said several hours later. “When leading him onto the truck, I told him that he will come back to our home to be with me together soon. I told him to wait just a few more days.”
Tongkum was taken to Bangkok’s Khan Na Yao Police Station, where he will remain until the court decides who owns him.
Around back, reporters were led past a cutout of Col. Singh Singhdet, the station chief, in cowboy gear to a corral containing a shed wrapped with mosquito netting. There, officers said they would take turns trying to bring the smile back to Tongkum’s face.
“The environment should still be good for him,” said one cop on the scene now tasked with buffalo care. “It’s still a natural environment.”
Surat said the animal’s well-being will suffer.
“I’m so worried about him. He needs to play in water all the time and roll in mud so he can be protected from mosquitoes. He also eats a lot of grass,” Surat said.
Singh said he believes Surat misled the public about the seriousness of Tongkum’s situation.
“Surat exploited people’s pity to solicit money, which is illegal,” Singh said.
Boonlert Kanpakdee, Tongkum’s former owner and a lesser local official in Chai Nat, called Surat a beggar Monday for appealing online for the 100,000 baht he used to buy Tongkum after the pair became internet famous.
Surat denies making any misleading statements in his public appeal.
“I will do my best to show my innocence. I will ask for legal help,” Surat said. He said he did not have legal representation.
Boonlert was accompanied Monday to the police station by a media-hungry attorney who said he’d donated 100 baht and had now taken it back. He and one other had come forward to reclaim their donations, Singh said.
Singh said that Boonlert did indeed name a price of 100,000 baht for Tongkum. He said that Surat posted a video clip of himself crying and asking for money lest Tongkum be killed.
Surat denies making such a clip. None could be found online. He did make appeals for support through various media channels, some of which embellished his tale including a few news accounts that the buffalo faced the slaughterhouse.
“Surat really does love buffaloes. He wanted this buffalo so much because he has a female one he wants [Tongkhum] to mate with,” Singh said. “If both sides fight it out, then he’ll stay here for a long time.”